Public Comment

Reporting to U.N. Human Rights Committees

By Ann Fagan Ginger
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 09:02:00 AM

On Thurs., Feb. 18, Assembly Member William Monning (27th District–Monterey, Santa Cruz) introduced Assembly Concurrent Resolution 129 to make California the first state to file reports to the three U.N. human rights committees under treaties the U.S. has ratified. 

The U.S. ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1992), the International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ICAT, 1994) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, 1994). The treaty committees call for the U.S to publicize the treaty texts throughout its states and territories and to send periodic reports from “federal, state, and local levels” on the U.S.’s enforcement of the rights to human dignity, privacy, healthcare, and employment. 

As Monning’s resolution notes, California, as a state, has never received a notice from the federal government to compile the needed information for the treaty committees. 

The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute of Berkeley sponsored ACR 129, after convincing the city of Berkeley to become the first city in the country to submit treaty reports. On Sept. 29, 2009, the Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a resolution allowing unpaid interns to use Berkeley statistics and data to make these reports. They will also be made public in Berkeley and will be sent to the media, the county Board of Supervisors, the state Attorney General, the U.S. Department of State so that it can be included in the country’s report, and to the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the U.N. Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the U.N. Committee Against Torture. 

Councilmember Max Anderson remarked, “This is extremely important. This is the way Berkeley should be talking. This should be an inspiration to other communities.” About youth involvement in compiling the needed data for the reports, he said, “I think it’s extremely important for young people to take part in something like this so it begins to become clear to them about the relationship, not only with their neighbors or with their fellow Berkeleyans, but with the world we live in.” Fellow Councilmember Kriss Worthington noted, “I think this is a wonderful thing to do…The city of Berkeley is setting an example on a small scale that we are going to respect these treaties, and we’re going to provide as much information as we reasonably can…[I]nstead of lecturing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we’re taking small, simple steps…I think that sends a more powerful message that little cities can do it, so let’s motivate the U.S. to do it.” 

Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission persuaded the City Council to pass its resolution to report to the U.N. treaty committees. According to Diana Bohn, chair of the Commission’s Subcommittee on U.N. Reports, the commission will hold public hearings while preparing the reports so Berkeley citizens can state their concerns. She added that, though the U.S. has filed reports, it has yet to file them in a timely manner or to include information from states and cities, except for one report about four states after the U.N. Committee requested local information. 

The next U.S. ICCPR report to the UN Human Rights Committee is due on Aug. 8, 2010. The next U.S. ICAT and ICERD reports are due to the U.N. CAT and CERD Committees on Nov. 19 and 20, 2011, respectively. 

“Our experience at MCLI shows that making local periodic reports is essential to U.S. compliance with its human rights obligations,” summed up Susan Scott, Sacramento lawyer and MCLI board president. 


Ann Fagan Ginger is the executive director emeritus of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute.